Australia offers ‘tainted’ sheep to Iraq
SYDNEY: Australia has struck a secret deal to offload stranded sheep from the so-called “ship of death” in Iraq in time for the Muslim festival of Ramadan, it was reported on Friday.
Amid burgeoning public outcry over the sheep’s plight and an unprecedented advertising campaign by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the government is keen to land the sheep in the Middle East.
The shipload of 57,000 live sheep left Australia almost two months ago for Saudi Arabia but was rejected because an excessive number were suffering from the disease scabby mouth, a claim dismissed by on-board Australian veterinarians. The sheep have since been stranded on the Dutch-owned Cormo Express in the Persian Gulf in sweltering conditions which have led to around 6,000 deaths, the RSPCA said.
Canberra has so far failed to find a taker for the sheep in negotiations with 10 countries despite offering them for free. Melbourne’s Age newspaper reported on Friday the government had struck a secret deal with Iraq for the sheep to be slaughtered for Ramadan.
Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said Australian livestock exporters, keen to put an end to the public relations disaster, would buy back the surviving sheep and give them away. It said the deal would cost the national live trade industry up to 10 million Australian dollars ($6.8 million) and could lead to a levy on live exports.
An agriculture ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report but said the government was still negotiating with 10 countries. “Our advice from negotiators ... is that any comment by us, any confirmation by us or any naming of countries involved in negotiations is definitely likely to prejudice those negotiations,” the spokesman said.
“So we’re not going to do anything to damage the attempts that the Australian government is making to assist the owner of the sheep and get those sheep offloaded as quickly as possible,” he added. —AFP